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Currently Reading

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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.


Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Beverages, on June 10th, 2010.

I’m on a food quest – a mission, if you will. To find out how to make perfect Thai iced tea. It took me a couple of weeks of periodic research online (finding various recipes, with use of various kinds of milk, hearing about the different kinds of Thai tea to buy, visiting several Asian markets trying to find it) before I finally just went to my local Thai restaurant and asked them if they’d sell me their tea. Sure they would. For $7.00 for the bag you’ll see in the photo down below. The kind owner was trying to tell me how much of the tea mix to use, but I couldn’t understand him well enough to know what he was saying. How much tea to water? I couldn’t understand. The bag does have a recipe on it (in English!), but I think it would be way too strong. I don’t want to stay up all night with all the caffeine. So I resorted to just trying it, guessing on the quantity.If you don’t know about Thai iced tea, you’re really missing out. Well, that is, if you enjoy sweetened and milky iced tea. I didn’t know whether I’d like it or not, but my friend Norma (the one who died recently of pulmonary fibrosis) introduced me to it – she and her husband Mike lived in Asia for awhile and knew all about it. I was hooked as soon as I tasted it. But then, I like milky tea, and sweetened tea; not everyone does. My DH doesn’t like it at all. I served it to one of my daughters and she could hardly swallow it. So maybe it’s an acquired taste?

With the reading I did, I found out there are lots of qualities of Thai tea out there. The rusty brown color you see above is created by mixing the dark tea with some yellow food coloring (which is impregnated in the tea, I guess). Some of it may be from annatto seeds, which have a natural red/brown color to them. I’m not thrilled about ingesting all that much Yellow Food Dye #3, but I must if I want some of this tea. The tea itself is spicy – along the lines of Chai tea, but it contains different spices than Chai tea. Chai is from India. Obviously Thai tea is different! And according to many people who commented, if it’s Thai tea you want, the tea must come from Thailand because only they know how to make it. The package I bought from my local restaurant is from Thailand and it says it contains green tea, spices and yellow food dye. It also has Vietnamese words on it, so guess I’ll have to visit a Vietnamese store in our local community to find more, perhaps.

Having read about a dozen websites with information about making Thai iced tea, this is what I gleaned: (1) you must mix the tea, water and sugar, bring it to a boil, then let it sit for awhile. There were variations on how long it’s to sit. Some wanted a short time; others said much longer than traditional for English tea [which generally is 5 minutes]; (2) strain it to get out all the twigs and spices, then allow it to cool, and chill it; (3) pour it out over lots of ice, and using the bowl of a spoon close to the tea surface, pour in the milk – most sites said evaporated milk – other said sweetened condensed milk. I concluded using the sweetened milk would make the tea excessively sweet.

So I made some – using about 1/2 cup of the Thai tea mix in about 6 cups of water. If I had added the sugar then I’d probably have put in about 1/3 cup. I wanted to use Splenda and added it later. I brought the tea mixture to a boil, allowed it to sit and mellow for about 10 minutes, then strained it through a very fine mesh strainer (and even then I didn’t get out all of the very finely ground spices). Once it cooled, into the fridge it went to chill for awhile.

As you can see from the photo at left, the tea is strong – but interestingly enough – it’s not bitter like strongly made regular English type black tea – even after steeping for awhile.

After it was thoroughly cold, I poured it over a bunch of ice (this is when I added Splenda – that’s definitely not authentic). Very carefully I tried adding some fat-free half and half. Nope. Didn’t taste right at all. Then I tried evaporated milk and yes, that was it. From a little 6-ounce can of Carnation evaporated milk, I was able to make 2 tall glasses of tea.

If any of you know some secrets about making Thai iced tea, I’d be grateful for suggestions. I found a website called instructables. It had the best ideas, I thought. As with lots of recipes, this one is open to interpretation, adjustments, enhancements. And if you don’t want to go through all the hassle I did, most Thai restaurants have it as a beverage – just ask at your local Thai eatery if they have it on their menu (don’t get the ones with tapioca balls in it), and order a glass of it.

A year ago: Couscous Chicken Salad
Two years ago: Sarah’s Ginger Scones
Three years ago: Hot as Haiti (an adult rum drink)

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  1. Kathleen Heckathorn

    said on June 10th, 2010:

    Great article Carolyn. Have you tried asking them at Spice Thai restaurant how they make it? Theirs is really good. I’ll meet you there any time for lunch. (Maybe after I’m done with Jenny!) I also like the drinks with tapioca, but thought that was a Japanese drink.

    Let’s do meet there for lunch and we’ll find out! . . . thanks, Kathleen.

  2. Andrea

    said on February 18th, 2013:

    Hi there! I know this post is old, but in case you haven’t figured it out yet, the ingredient you are looking for is condensed milk! Using that instead of evaporated milk will give you the authentic taste you are looking for. Also, I think your blog is great! 🙂 Can’t wait to try some of your recipes.

    I know that many Thai ice tea versions do use sweetened condensed milk, but in this case I really didn’t want to use it – as it makes it full of sugar – I wanted to use Splenda or some other sugar substitute instead – so my only option was to use the evaporated milk. And many recipes call for it rather than the sweetened condensed stuff. The finished tea may be more authentic made the other way, though. Thanks for your suggestions, though. . . carolyn t

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